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by Cathy Daub, Founder and President of BWI

It is no surprise that we are contaminating our environment with toxins. What is not as well known is that some of these “forever chemicals” cannot be destroyed, and may be still another cause of preterm birth. 

A premature birth by definition is one that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy. Causes of premature births include: multiple pregnancies, health of the mother, cigarettes and drugs. In addition, obesity with high blood pressure readings during labor leads to the practice of inductions which can cause premature birth. Now, added to this list, are Phthalates which are toxins found in many plastics and personal-care products.

Being informed and educated is key in being able to make the best choices. At BirthWorks, we teach that... When a way has been found to decrease chances of a baby being born too early, and the practice is simple and natural - DO IT!

Preterm Birth Statistics

Though the percentage of newborns born prematurely declined 1% from 10.49% (in 2021) to 10.38% (in 2022), this followed a 4% rise in the preterm rate from 2020 (10.09%) to 2021, making this rate still too high. In 2021, preterm birth and low birth weight accounted for about 14.8% of infant deaths before one year of age. However, racial and ethnic differences in preterm birth rates are significant and important to address. In 2022, the rate of preterm birth among African-American women (14.6%) was about 50% higher than the rate of preterm birth among white women or Hispanic women (9.4% and 10.1% respectively.)  

Dangers of Preterm Birth

As a pediatric physical therapist, I worked for thirty years with special needs children and their parents in the public schools. Many were born prematurely and suffered from various disabilities. A baby in the womb needs the final weeks of pregnancy to fully develop the brain, lungs and liver. When they are born too early, (especially before 32 weeks) they have higher rates of death and disability. Those who survive may have breathing problems, feeding difficulties, cerebral palsy, developmental delays, and vision and hearing problems. The emotional toll and financial burden on families of preterm infants is tremendous. 

What are Phthalates?

Phthalates are used to make plastics more durable and flexible - but they can damage the liver, lungs, and reproductive systems. Bisphenol A (BPA), used in rigid plastics and as a coating for metal food cans, can harm the immune system and disrupt the reproductive and endocrine systems. Most cans with BPA in the linings will usually not say so on the can (so people do not know they are exposed through eating canned food), but if the cans say "BPA free", that has to be true. It is worth taking the time when shopping to choose brands that care.

Researchers examined data from 5,000 new mothers across the USA and found that higher exposure to phthalates was linked to detrimental changes in gestational age, birth length, and birthweight. The chemicals are believed to interfere with gestation by disrupting hormone regulation in pregnant women. 

Where are Phthalates Found?  

The phthalate titled DEHP has a significant association with risks, and although it has been banned in children’s toys, it can still be found in plastic food packaging. It is estimated that in 2018, more than 56,000 preterm births were at least partly associated with baby's exposure to phthalates in their mother's womb.

What you can do!

Decrease and even avoid exposure to phthalates - use glass or stainless steel for food storage. Also, NEVER microwave food in plastic containers because heat can cause chemicals in the plastic to leach into food. Never warm up your food in plastic containers, or store warm or hot food in plastic (even leftovers). Also, make sure what you drink from is not plastic or foam - hot coffees and teas can cause breakdown of plastic or disposable cups (like you are given at a coffee shop). Just use glass or steel reusable water cups and bottles... it's easy to grab a reusable steel cup before heading to the coffee shop or work. The practice of storing food, leftovers and drinks in glass or stainless steel is common sense. It is so easy and has a great impact in helping to decrease preterm birth as well as improving health for everyone in the family.


  1. NCHS Data Brief No. 477, August 2023 (PDF Version), Joyce A. Martin, M.P.H, Brady E. Hamilton, Ph.D., and Michelle J.K. Osterman, M.H.S.
  2. Osterman MJK, Hamilton BE, Martin JA, Driscoll AK, Valenzuela CP. Births: Final data for 2020. National Vital Statistics Reports; vol 70 no 17. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2022. DOI:
  3. The Week, February 23, 2024, p. 21
  4. Clynes, Tom, Environmental Defense Fund Special Report, From toxic chemicals to safer alternatives, Autumn 2023, p.7